Science gateways

09.08.2012

Nuno Ferreira on the state of the art of EGI science gateways

Researchers are being pushed to their limits as the society and their peers demand fast answers and high throughput. E-infrastructures offer new possibilities and new avenues of research, but they can be difficult to master, especially by scientists not familiar with a command line interface, the typical grid front-end.

What if there is a way to increase productivity by bringing e-infrastructures closer to the researchers’ working environment?

Science gateways do just that. They are emerging as promising tools, which offer a collaborative environment and enable access to computing and data storage resources, helping scientists to engage more actively with the e-infrastructure.

An EGI science gateway is a community-specific set of tools, applications, and data collections that are integrated together via a web portal or a desktop application, providing access to resources and services from the European Grid Infrastructure. These gateways support a variety of capabilities including workflows, virtualisation software and hardware, visualisation as well as resource discovery, job execution services, access to data collections, applications, and tools for data analysis.

The research community can already browse the available science gateways coupled to EGI resources. Each of the gateways targets a particular research audience and offers tools and interfaces that are specific to their community's use cases. The gateways have their own guidelines for access as these are provided by separate projects, scientific communities, and National Grid Infrastructures (NGIs).

The enabling technologies and the underlying capabilities that provide the required functionality for science gateways, are also listed. Several EGI stakeholders offer reusable components or frameworks for developers to build custom products, saving time and effort when developing new gateways. 
EGI science gateways and their enabling technologies are registered in the EGI Applications Database (AppDB). By registering them in AppDB, your service will be visible to the EGI community and to the general public, not only through the EGI website but also through numerous user community and NGI websites that use the AppDB web gadget.

Science gateways offer a unique opportunity to engage more researchers with the possibilities of e-infrastructures. As more and more communities take up the challenge and start building their own solutions, the diversity of available gateways grows. This diversity becomes strength, as sets of best practices start to emerge and to be re-used by gateway developers.

Because we believe science gateways are a strong asset to researchers, EGI.eu and the Hungarian NGI will steer a virtual team to produce a state-of-the-art primer on science gateways. We aim to provide developers with the basic blocks to build powerful cutting-edge 'science making tools', while incorporating EGI's established policies (security, accounting, operations) and evaluating how sustainability could be achieved.

The success of bringing new communities into novel ways of making science relies heavily on the user-friendliness and robustness of the available interfaces. Otherwise, it could be a step too far for researchers.

Are science gateways part of the solution?

I certainly hope so!